Siri Hedreen / The Outlook

Back behind the school bus shop is Benjamin Russell High School's cosmetology building, which one could be forgiven for mistaking for a storage unit. On the inside, however, is a fully-equipped beauty salon twice the size of your typical independent hair place.

"We cut (hair), we do make-up, we do pedicures and manicures," cosmetology teacher Brenda Thornton said. "We do it all."

Benjamin Russell's cosmetology career technical program is all-female this year, though one boy did graduate from the program last year, Thornton said. The students practice hair on Barbie Doll-like heads mounted on tripods.

In their latest assignment, students were tasked with learning a 20th-century hairstyle and then recreating it with their own contemporary version.

"It's classic versus trendy," Thornton said.

Mikhia Burt, an aspiring architect who's taking cosmetology as a back-up career, chose 1930s-style pin curls for her classic style. In her updated version, she twisted rainbow-colored hair into butterfly braids.

Jariyah Williams, who already has an afterschool side gig doing hair, styled two different versions of cornrows.

"It didn't take me that long because I'm a braider," Williams said.

Meanwhile, classmate Ayanna Robinson explained her 1920s-style finger waves technique. 

"All I did was just part the middle, got a comb and some foam and just started modeling with my fingers," Robinson said. "And for my new one I did Bantu knots."

When the students aren't styling fake hair, they're cutting each other's.

"As far as the cutting I let them do a basic haircut, like trim the ends, on each other," Thornton said.

Thornton also teaches gel manicures, pedicures and waxing (eyebrows only). For those who don't want their nails painted, Thornton has a box in the back of little plastic fingers.

Once pandemic restrictions are lifted, students will also be offering their services to the community.

"We're not allowed to have people coming in," Thornton said. "But we're ready."

Editor's Note: This is part of a video series on the different career technical programs at Benjamin Russell High School.